To some people, foraging for wild mushrooms is akin to hunting for treasure. A walk in the woods is transformed into a mission to find some chanterelles lurking under a log or some spongy morels cozying up to the base of a tree. In Indiana, mushrooms with fanciful names such as fairy's fingers, witch's butter and devil's urn may sound tempting, but there's some risk involved in seeking out that meaty mushroom: Eating a poisonous lookalike could earn you a stomachache--or worse. There are plenty of commonly found varieties that are edible in Indiana from spring to late fall.
Spring: Morel Mushrooms
With their spongelike textured caps the morel mushroom (Morchella) is prized by foragers for its meaty and nutty flavour. And with over 16 varieties grown in North America alone, edible morels found in Indiana may range in colour from pale yellow to grey and even black. In springtime--early April and May--morels may be found nestled near dead elms and in beach-maples forest, growing up to a foot tall. Of course, these delectable 'shrooms are usually plucked from the forest before they can grow this big. Indianans are so mad about morels, a festival is held in this fungi's honour each year.
Late Summer: Chicken of the Woods
This mushroom's poultry-like name practically tells you that its edible and has a mild flavour like chicken. It's also commonly called the sulphur shelf (Laetiporus sulphureus) and can be found in late summer, perched on old stumps and growing on dead trees. Here's another clue: the sulphur shelf grows in shelf-like layers or leaves and its colour ranges from a bright sulphur yellow to yellow-orange. But beware: When this mushroom gets older, it becomes harder to digest. According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, it is known to cause allergic reactions, including swollen lips.
Late Summer to Early Fall: Chanterelle Mushrooms
The golden trumpet-shaped chanterelle mushroom is part of the genus Cantharellus and Craterellus. Its underside is deeply wrinkled, but these furrows are commonly mistaken for gills. In Indiana, forage for chanterelles in late summer or early fall. Be sure to get close to this mushroom, which can grow larger than a fist and weigh up to two pounds, and inhale deeply. You should be able to detect the fruity scent of peaches or apricots.
Fall: Giant Puffballs
The giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea) lives up to its name: It can grow up to 20 inches across and weigh in at a hefty 4.54 Kilogram. The edible behemoth should have a firm white flesh that's unblemished; if it's brown or yellowish, it's too old. Giant puffballs are easy to find in Indiana. The next time you think you see a soccer ball sitting in a semi-open area in the woods in October, look again. It's likely a giant puffball. Slice up this magnificent mushroom and serve it up at your dinner table, breaded and cooked like a chicken-fried steak.
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